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This 9/11, remember cohesion

Jay Winuk, co-founder of 9/11 Day, with a missing person's flier of his brother, Glenn Winuk, a firefighter who died in 2001. Courtesy of Jay Winuk

Jay Winuk, co-founder of 9/11 Day, with a missing person’s flier of his brother, Glenn Winuk, a firefighter who died in 2001. Courtesy of Jay Winuk

Jay Winuk has a message for all of us this weekend.

Unity.

Recognize it. Pause from the negative. Restore it.

Winuk, who lives in Mahopac, N.Y., will again remember his brother, Glenn J. Winuk, a volunteer firefighter who died while doing triage in the South Tower at the World Trade Center.

He does this in part by inspiring people across the country to rekindle the compassion and generosity that was our bedrock response to the terrorist attacks. His brother, an attorney, headed the wrong way from his office to help before the tower collapsed.

Jay Winuk is the co-founder of 9/11 Day, a national nonprofit that facilitates service projects to honor the fallen and commemorate the spirit of this response. He was instrumental in establishing the federally recognized September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance.

An expected 30 million Americans will honor those lost by doing charitable service and good deeds this weekend on the 15th anniversary. Small, unheralded acts such as helping a neighbor, to large projects like preparing packages for active duty military personnel.

“Not from a political point of view but from a societal point of view.” — Jay Winuk

Putting aside our differences in tribute. Just as many did in what feels like a lifetime ago.

For Winuk, this year’s observance carries an extra punch.

He feels urgency for people to come together again. To step back from toxic politics and the helpless feeling of watching a world spin out of control. To “focus on our common humanity, rather than on those things that tend to separate or compartmentalize us,” he wrote in an Op-Ed piece for The Journal News of Westchester County, N.Y.

Also recognizing the absence of unity. And doing something about it—even for one day.

He is not alone in this.

Marian Fontana, the widow of a New York City firefighter, wrote in The Boston Globe, “I am heartbroken about how far we have fallen from the unity we had after 9/11. I am deeply concerned about our country, its future, my son’s future, all of us.”

Sure, some may say this sounds illusory, like holding hands to sing “Kumbaya.” A soft response, when so many have deep fears stirred by all the dysfunction.

Winuk argues otherwise, with conviction. This is in fact the season, the exact moment, when unity and understanding are needed more than ever.

Putting aside our differences in tribute.

This year, 9/11 Day began partnering with more than 40 faith, education, youth, 9/11, and service-related organizations. Called “Together Tomorrow,” the coalition is encouraging Americans to renew their cohesion—through faith-based reflection, service, and the unscripted acts many do privately.

Winuk’s group is non-political, “agnostic,” he says, bipartisan from the start. Yet its members, and likely many participants in 9/11 observances, are motivated by seeking commonality to address deep problems. “We want to be part of that conversation,” Jay told me this week, “not from a political point of view but from a societal point of view.”

To accomplish this, we may need a gut check on what it means to understand if not reconcile with people who have different views. In a different context this week, conservative radio host Glenn Beck advocated why “Empathy for Black Lives Matter” in The New York Times.

Beck suggested that if we fail to reach out to people we don’t yet understand, “What we have seen this year will be just the beginning of the hate we are about to unleash.”

Recognizing the absence of unity. And doing something about it—even for one day.

On Sunday, Jay Winuk along with his wife and daughter, a high school freshman, will join several thousand people in assembly lines packing meals for those at risk for hunger. Perhaps, even for a few hours, volunteers will be miles and years away from the wrath and poisons threatening to consume us. The logistics preparing a half-million meals at Pier 36 on the East River—and then distributing the food–are almost mind-boggling.

But not so much the unity of their purpose.

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